8 common nutritional deficiencies

Jill Bridges, SATI STAFF

If you’re like most people, you want to make sure that you live as long and healthy a life as possible. To accomplish this goal, it’s important that you maintain a healthy lifestyle which includes several important components. However, perhaps the most crucial part of maintaining your health is making sure that your diet contains enough essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

Unfortunately, eating a healthy diet can be difficult in the modern, fast-paced world. Because modern diets are filled with so many processed foods, it’s common for people to be lacking in many important nutrients. Eventually, this will lead to something known as a nutritional deficiency.

Nutritional deficiencies are extremely dangerous, and may put you at risk for several serious diseases. Because getting proper nutrition is so difficult, it’s very common for people to experience a nutritional deficiency. Learning about a few of the most common nutritional deficiencies can be a useful tool in making sure that your diet is as healthy and nutrient-rich as possible.

Here are a few of the most common nutritional deficiencies, and some easy tips for improving the nutritional content of your diet.

The importance of nutrition

Before learning about common nutritional deficiencies, it can be a good idea to learn why proper nutrition is so important. Nutrition can often be overlooked when we discuss diet, which is why it’s crucial to understand how nutrition can contribute to your long-term health[1].

The primary reason that proper nutrition is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle is that it helps your body function the right way[2]. Every major system in your body relies on certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to work properly, and if these items are lacking in your diet, your organ function will be reduced and your health will be greatly impacted[3].

Besides supporting your body’s normal functioning, proper nutrition can help lower your risk of suffering from very serious diseases. For instance, eating a nutritionally balanced diet can help you control your blood pressure, boost your immunity, and lower your chances of developing conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes[4]. Additionally, by following your nutritional guidelines, you will feel better, have more energy, and be better able to enjoy your life[5].

As you can see, if you want to live a long, fulfilling life, getting enough nutrients is extremely important.

How deficiencies occur

Now that you know why proper nutrition is so important, it’s a good idea to learn how nutritional deficiencies can occur. A nutritional deficiency, which is also commonly referred to as malnutrition, can develop very easily, and mostly occurs due to unhealthy eating habits and lifestyle choices[6,7].

One of the biggest culprits behind nutritional deficiency is a poor diet. For example, if your diet mostly consists of processed food, such as fast food, then you are likely not meeting nutritional needs as these foods are full of empty calories while offering very little in the way of nutrients and vitamins[8].

However, it’s also possible to experience a nutritional deficiency even if you think you’re following a healthy diet[8]. You can eat a healthy diet and develop malnutrition if you’re not getting enough of a certain nutrient, or if you have an underlying health condition that makes it difficult for your body to absorb minerals[9].

If you want to make sure that your diet is nutritionally balanced, you need to be aware of the foods that you are eating and in what amounts[10]. Try to make sure that you’re eating whole foods that are packed with nutrients, and you should be able to maintain nutrition.

1. Iron deficiency

Iron is one of the of the most important minerals in the world. Your body uses iron to maintain the health of your red blood cells, which work to transport oxygen throughout your body[11].

Most people don’t realize that there are actually two types of iron that you should have in your diet. Heme iron is a type of iron that is readily absorbed by your diet, and is exclusively found in animal products like red meat[12]. Non-heme iron is the other type of dietary iron. This type of iron is found in plant foods but is not as easily absorbed by the body as heme iron[13].

Iron deficiency is the most prevalent form of nutritional deficiency. Evidence suggests that a quarter of the world’s population suffers from this form of malnutrition. Frighteningly, nearly 50% of preschool aged children are iron deficient[14].

However, some people are more vulnerable to iron deficiency than others. For example, vegans and vegetarians frequently experience iron deficiency because they only consume non-heme iron, which the body cannot use as effectively as heme iron[15]. If you are iron deficient, you have a much greater risk of developing anemia, a condition where your blood lacks the proper amount of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin.

2. Iodine deficiency

When most people think of iodine, they picture a liquid used to cleanse wounds. However, iodine is also an essential mineral that helps to promote your long-term health. Primarily, iodine helps to maintain proper thyroid function and promotes thyroid hormone production[16].

Thyroid hormones are extremely important to several functions in your body, particularly in children[17]. Your body uses thyroid hormones to promote healthy brain development, body growth, and strengthening bones. Thyroid hormones also help to control your metabolic rate, which is vital for weight maintenance[18].

Unfortunately, it’s very common for people to experience an iodine deficiency. It’s estimated that a third of people in the world fail to get enough iodine in their diet[19]. When you don’t get enough iodine, it’s possible for your thyroid gland to enlarge, which is known as a goiter. An iodine deficiency can also trigger weight gain, a rapid heart rate, and possible shortness of breath. In children, iodine deficiency can stunt development and cause mental disabilities[20].

Fortunately, there are several foods that are rich in iodine. These foods include fish, seaweed, and a variety of dairy products.

3. Vitamin D deficiency

There are several vitamins that a person needs in order to maintain their long-term health. However, perhaps the most important vitamin is vitamin D. Vitamin D is a type of fat-soluble vitamin[21]. When you consume vitamin D, it works in your body as a steroid hormone, controlling which genes in your body are active and which are dormant. Virtually every cell in the human body has a vitamin D receptor[22].

Vitamin D is one of the few vitamins that are produced by your body. When exposed to sunlight, the cholesterol contained in your skin cells is used to produce vitamin D[23]. It is for this reason that people who live in areas of the world with less sunlight are at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency[24].

In the United States, slightly over 40% of people are vitamin D deficient. People who don’t regularly go outdoors, such as the elderly, and people with darker skin have a high risk for vitamin D deficiency[25]. If you are vitamin D deficient, you will often experience chronic muscle weakness and a higher incidence of bone fractures, as well as a less effective immune system.

4. Vitamin B12 deficiency

B vitamins are a large vitamin family that can substantially improve human health when consumed in the right amounts. One of the most important B vitamins is vitamin B12, which is also called cobalamin. Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it dissolves in water very easily[26].

All of the cells in your body require vitamin B12 to function normally. While vitamin B12 serves several roles, it is most important for creating new blood cells and promoting proper nerve and brain function[27]. Because vitamin B12 is not produced by the body, you will have to get this vitamin from either food or nutritional supplements[28].

Like iron, vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products. This means that people increase their risk for vitamin B12 deficiency by avoiding animal products[29]. For example, certain studies have suggested that between 80% and 90% of vegans and vegetarians are vitamin B12 deficient. Also, because vitamin B12 is difficult to absorb, the elderly are at risk for deficiency as their body’s ability to absorb nutrients naturally decreases[30].

Making sure you’re getting enough B12 is crucial for maintaining your health as you age.

5. Calcium deficiency

Calcium is another mineral that is crucial for the health of the human body. As with vitamin B12, all of the cells in your body can process and use calcium. However, calcium is most important for the continued health of your bones and teeth. In addition, your body uses calcium to regulate your muscles, nerves, and your heart[31].

Your bloodstream is only capable of holding certain amounts of calcium. If you have excess calcium in your blood, it will be stored in your bones. If you have too little calcium, your bones will excrete stored calcium to replenish your levels[32].

When you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, it’s possible to develop osteoporosis, a condition where you lose bone mass, and are at a greater risk for experiencing other similar diseases[33]. While everyone is at risk for calcium deficiency, teenagers and people over the age of 50 are particularly vulnerable. Research has indicated that 85% of teenage girls and 90% of women over 50 are calcium deficient[34]. 78% of teenage boys and men over 50 don’t get enough calcium[35].

Be certain you’re getting enough calcium if you want to keep your bones strong and resistant to serious breaks.

6. Vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A is one of the most important fat-soluble vitamins in existence. Its primary purpose is to create and maintain bone and tooth mass, and also promotes healthy cell membranes[36]. Additionally, vitamin A produces the pigmentation in our eyes, without which we wouldn’t be able to see clearly. In fact, the leading cause of blindness across the world is vitamin A deficiency[37].

Vitamin A is separated into two main categories. Preformed vitamin A comes from animal products, and can be found in red meat, dairy, poultry and fish. The other type of vitamin A is called pro-vitamin A, and is found in fruits and vegetables. Beta-carotene is the most prevalent form of pro-vitamin A[38].

Your risks of a vitamin A deficiency largely depend on where you live. In developed countries like the United States, for example, most people get more vitamin A than they need[39]. However, in developing countries, vitamin A deficiency is very common, with nearly 50% of children in some countries suffering from this form of malnutrition[40].

As long as your diet contains a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, and certain types of lean meat, there is little need to worry about a vitamin A deficiency.

7. Magnesium deficiency

As you may be able to tell, your body depends on a variety of minerals to maintain its structure. Magnesium is another one of these important minerals. In addition to maintaining the structure of your teeth and bones, magnesium is involved in 300 of the enzyme reactions that commonly occur in your body[41]. Despite its importance, magnesium deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the United States.

One study performed in 2005 found that close to half of the population of the United States was suffering from a lack of magnesium[42]. If you don’t have enough magnesium in your bloodstream, you will have a great increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome[43]. People who have been hospitalized have a high risk for magnesium deficiency, with some studies showing as much as 65% of patients lacking in blood magnesium[44].

Fortunately, it’s very easy to make sure you have enough magnesium in your diet. While leafy green vegetables are the most common source of magnesium, you can also find this mineral in dark chocolate, whole grains, and several types of nuts[45]. Lowering your risk of disease is easy when you get more magnesium in your diet.

8. Potassium deficiency

Besides their distinct color and pleasing flavor, a fact that most people know about bananas is that they contain large amounts of potassium. However, few people realize that potassium is one of the most important minerals for your body and, if you don’t get enough potassium, you may be doing serious harm to your long-term health.

Potassium supports virtually every major organ in your body, helping your heart and kidneys to function normally. Without enough potassium you can experience a variety of negative symptoms, including irregular heartbeat and reduced kidney function. It can be very easy to experience a potassium deficiency, as this mineral can be excreted in sweat. Potassium absorption can also be reduced when using antibiotics.

Shockingly, some evidence shows that 98% of the U.S. population is potassium deficient, meaning everyone should be concerned about adding more of this mineral to your diet. Luckily, the only thing you need to do to improve potassium levels is to eat potassium rich foods like whole grains, beans, and bananas.

Discovering deficiency

After learning about the different types of nutritional deficiency that you can suffer, it’s likely that you want to know how to tell if your nutrition is lacking. While some forms of nutritional deficiency can be hard to detect, others will make themselves known very rapidly[46]. Understanding the warning signs of a deficiency can help you know when you need to make adjustments to your diet.

With most forms of nutritional deficiency, you will notice drastic changes in the way that you feel[47]. For example, many forms of malnutrition are accompanied by prolonged feelings of weakness and fatigue. When you’re lacking in certain vitamins or minerals, you may experience dizziness or headaches[48]. Many forms of malnutrition don’t present symptoms until a great deal of time has passed. This is particularly true for calcium and vitamin A deficiencies[49].

The best way to detect a nutritional deficiency is visiting your doctor for a blood test. By examining your blood, your doctor can determine which vitamins, nutrients, and minerals are lacking in your diet and can give you tips for improving your nutrition[50]. If you’re concerned about your nutrition, you should consider scheduling a blood test as soon as possible.

Improving deficiencies

If you’re ready to improve your nutrition and lower your risk of a nutritional deficiency, you need to learn the most effective solutions for getting more minerals, nutrients, and vitamins in your diet. Although it certainly takes some effort, improving your nutrition is a lot easier than you might think, especially if you have the right tips at your disposal.

The easiest way to prevent malnutrition is to make sure that you’re eating the right foods. When it comes to nutrition, whole foods are the best option. Make sure that your diet includes large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as lean protein, nuts, and whole grains. If you target nutrient rich foods, you will be at a much lower risk of nutritional deficiency and will likely feel much better overall.

Whenever you buy food in the grocery store, be sure that you read the nutritional label. This label will provide valuable information about the nutritional content of your food, including any harmful added ingredients like refined sugar and carbohydrates.

The sati line

Anyone who is concerned with staying healthy throughout their life should be certain they are eating a balanced, nutritional diet. Unfortunately, as we have seen, most people are failing to achieve this goal, making it extremely common to suffer from a nutritional deficiency. Nutritional deficiencies are caused by diets lacking in minerals, nutrients, and vitamins, and these conditions can result in major consequences to your long-term health.

Nutritional deficiency can be experienced in several forms. Some of the most common types of deficiency involve iron, calcium, and multiple types of vitamins. When you are experiencing malnutrition, you may notice several symptoms, including chronic fatigue, headache, and more frequent illness. Some deficiencies have no symptoms, making them extremely dangerous.

If you want to know for sure if you’re suffering from a nutritional deficiency, you should schedule a blood test with a qualified physician. Once the results of your test come in, you will know exactly which nutrients you are lacking and how to address the situation. By adjusting your diet so that it contains more whole foods, you can avoid the harmful consequences of nutritional deficiencies.

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